AS GOD IS MY JUDGE
A powerful will may cure where a doubt will end in failure.
McGuire felt no pain. It was good to lie down where it was warm and dry. He had a fuzzy memory of someone waking him up, moving him or putting him in a car. There had been a lot of light, and he was very tired so he kept his eyes closed. There were voices¾gruff ones calling him names, kind ones holding him up, soft, feminine ones sounding like angels. And smells¾cigarettes, urine and more; perfume that spoke to his memory. He tried to embrace it with his mind, savor the sweetness, analyze its familiarity, but it drifted away¾like the dream that eluded him night after night.
He had never thought much about death, just assumed that when his time came, he would go to sleep, and that would be it. Possibly, this was his time. God knows, he had prayed for it often enough, but now he wasn't sure. Something was pulling him up, lifting him out of the well¾a voice? the perfume? His eyelids were heavy, but he forced them open. If he was dead and this was heaven, he was looking into the face of an angel.
It was a miserable night out¾the first cold snap of Fall¾damp, windy, a good night to be inside. The emergency room had seen several people for minor injuries from fender-benders on the wet roads. There were the usual respiratory infections that should have been treated in a doctor's office before getting to the pneumonia stage. One man with a heart attack couldn't be revived after he had gone into ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest
"Hey, Shannon, there's a man here named McGuire. Maybe you're related," the Triage Nurse, Harriett Browning, called through the connecting door to the nurses' station at DC General Hospital Emergency Room.
It was ten-thirty, and Shannon McGuire was reviewing her charts to be sure they were complete before she got off at eleven. This was her third week as a full-fledged Registered Nurse. She was losing some of the anxiety she felt in the beginning but none of her enthusiasm for her work.
"Shannon, are you coming?" Harriett called out.
"Okay," Shannon replied with a trace of annoyance in her voice. She had no relatives named McGuire. Her parents were dead, and she had not known her grandparents except for Grandfather McGuire who had disappeared when she was a child. The aunt who raised her was her mother's sister, not a McGuire.
She walked into the adjoining room and saw a disheveled old man slouched forward in a wheelchair parked next to the nurse's small desk. Harriett handed the clipboard to her without a glance. Shannon looked at it and froze. The usual high color of her cheeks drained to white, her hands started to shake, and a low moan came from deep within her throat.
Harriett looked up. She immediately stood, placed her arm around Shannon, and guided her to a chair behind her desk. "What's wrong? You're as white as a sheet."
"That name... My grandfather... I thought he was dead." Tears streamed down her cheeks. "He was such a sweet man; he always made me laugh."
Harriett reached for a box of tissues from which Shannon took two and dried her eyes. "You don't think this could be him, do you?" Harriett asked, looking at the old man slumped in the chair apparently oblivious to their conversation.
Shannon regained her composure. "What a rotten trick, seeing that name was like seeing a ghost."
"Isn't your grandfather dead?"
"I thought so; he disappeared after my parents' death. We never heard from him, and that was more than sixteen years ago."
A feeble cough rattled in the old man's chest. Harriett said, "I'd better get him to the back so he can be checked. I don't want him to die out here." She wheeled him through the double doors, leaving Shannon sitting at the desk. That has to be him, she thought. She dried her eyes and walked hurriedly to the room in which Harriett had left the old man.
Jeff Lassiter put aside the Journal of Emergency Medicine he had been holding on his lap while he watched the fourth quarter of Monday Night Football. He slowly pushed the chair away from the desk and dropped his feet from their perch on the desk. They made a dull thud as his cowboy boots struck the tile floor. He stood up, unfolding his six-foot-seven frame. He pushed his jeans down over the top of his boots, pulled his scrub shirt over the silver belt-buckle, and reached for his white coat. All of this seemed to be in slow motion¾his only speed except when he was on the basketball court, and even there his motions were so fluid and graceful you didn't realize he was outrunning the point guard. A broken leg kept him out of the NBA when he was an All-American forward at the University of North Carolina so he concentrated on his studies and got into medical school.
He crossed the hall, punched a code, the double doors opened, and he strolled through. The new nurse was leaning over an elderly man lying on the examining table. Jeff had come to respect her competence; her good looks and dedication were apparent from day one. Were it not for the slight rise and fall of the patient's chest, he would appear ready for the morgue. "What do we have?" Jeff asked.
Shannon was taking the old man's blood pressure and nodded toward the table on which the chart rested. Her long auburn hair had come loose and hung down on one side below the small nurse's cap.
Jeff picked up the chart and read: "Brought in by the police, had been sleeping beneath an overpass, looked about dead, no ID, blood pressure = 80/30, temp = 103.4, pulse = 96 - weak, respirations = 32 - shallow."
Suddenly, Jeff moved like he had just been thrown the ball in the left forecourt and was driving to the goal. He grabbed the oxygen mask and rattled off orders, "Blood gasses, CBC and Chem Profile, portable chest I'll get an IV going; let's move it!" Shannon left the room to call the lab and x-ray.
"Mr. McGuire? Mr. McGuire?! Talk to me." When he didn't get a response, Jeff started the IV. The old fellow was dehydrated, but he didn't want to overload his heart. Listening to his lungs was like hearing an orchestra out of tune¾high-pitched squeaks, dissonant rattles, gurgling wheezes, and bass-like groans. He shook his head, turned the oxygen, now being delivered by nasal canula, to eight liters per minute and prepared a solution of penicillin that he hooked piggy-back to the IV.
Shannon returned; her face was flushed. Her hands trembled as she rechecked McGuire's blood pressure in the other arm-still dangerously low.
A flurry of activity followed as the lab technician took arterial blood from the radial artery in McGuire's wrist and venous blood from his forearm. The x-ray technician had wheeled the portable unit in. Jeff lifted McGuire's upper body so the technician could place an x-ray cassette under his chest. The technician clicked the machine, removed the cassette, and left the room. Jeff completed his physical exam.
The technician returned in a matter of minutes thanks to the adjacent automatic processor and stuck the x-ray on the view-box. To Jeff it had pneumonia written all over it. White opacities obliterated the normally black areas produced by the high radio-lucency of the aerated lung. There could be tuberculosis underneath all that, although the apices looked relatively clear. He turned back and looked at McGuire. Large ulcerating tumors of the forehead and one that was eroding the left side of his nose gave his face a Halloween mask appearance¾appropriate for the time of year. The wrinkled eyelids remained closed; Jeff had only gotten a peek at his eyes when he had lifted the lids to test their pupillary reflexes. "Let's get him to the ICU, and God help him."
"May I talk to him?" Shannon asked. Her voice was tremulous, her face tense. Jeff stepped back. She took McGuire's free hand in hers and leaned close. "Gramps, it's me, Shannon, your granddaughter, Jim's girl. Can you hear me?" There was no response. She looked at Jeff, "Is he going to make it?"
"The odds are against it."
"I don't want to lose him again," she sobbed openly.
"Talk to him," Jeff said. "Try to get through to him¾he needs a reason to live as much as he needs antibiotics."
"Gramps, this is Shannon. Speak to me. Open your eyes, please."
Slowly the lids retracted, and the deep green eyes that looked up were mirror images of her own. "Is that you, my little elf?" The voice was as soft as a breeze, and like a wind that was spent, the eyes closed.
Shannon reluctantly released his hand as an ICU nurse and orderly wheeled him out. "Hold on, Gramps, I'll come to see you." Her moist eyes followed them. There could only be one Gabriel O'Shaunhessy McGuire born on May twenty-ninth, eighteen-hundred-ninety-seven.